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Minnesota lawmakers back ‘peeping Tom’ law update after court decision

The Minnesota Supreme Court last week ruled that a man, who stayed at a woman’s house after a first date and took video of her without clothes on while she slept, had not broken privacy law as he was inside the woman’s home.

FSA Minnesota supreme court
The chambers of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Forum News Service file photo
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ST. PAUL — An amendment to a major crime bill in the Minnesota Legislature would help clarify the state’s “peeping Tom” law after the state’s highest court allowed a man to withdraw a guilty plea for filming a woman in bed without her consent.

The Minnesota Supreme Court last week ruled that the man , who stayed at a woman’s house after a first date and took video of her without clothes on while she slept, had not broken privacy law as he was inside the woman’s home.

Current state law says the offender must record “through the window or any other aperture of a house or place of dwelling.” Justices in their 11-page ruling said it is up to the Legislature to change the law.

Taking the state high court’s ruling as a cue, Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, successfully got a proposal to update state privacy law into the $340 million public safety package passed by House Democrats last week.

“(It) is shocking that the Supreme Court was basing that decision on how our language in our current statute is worded and so this amendment closes that loophole,” said Moller as she urged fellow members to support the change.

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Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview.jpg
Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview
Paul Battaglia

Moller’s amendment would change the state’s “peeping Tom” law to make it a gross misdemeanor to use any device to capture “an image of a private area of an individual” without consent. It replaces the existing language about windows and apertures with language to cover a greater number of situations, she said.

Her proposal was one of the few things House lawmakers agreed on across party lines during debate on the public safety bill. It passed with all ayes on a voice vote, and multiple Republican representatives rose to express support for the amendment, including Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, and Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, who said he wanted to bring the amendment forward but Moller had beat him to the punch.

“This might be the fastest we’ve ever reacted to something like this, O'Neill said pointing out that the court decision had only come days before on April 27.

Republicans ultimately did not support the entire $340 million House public safety package, which passed late Friday on a 68-61 party-line vote. Gov. Tim Walz’s office said it supports changing the privacy statute. As of Tuesday morning, May 3, the Senate Republican majority had not yet responded to a request for comment on the privacy law. The Senate has a competing $200 million public safety bill, and anything that becomes law will likely be a compromise between the Senate and the House.

The House public safety committee had already been reviewing the privacy interference statute this session, Moller said. Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, introduced legislation earlier this session to extend the statute of limitations for privacy violations after difficulties prosecuting “peeping Tom” cases in his district.

Miller’s bill is also part of the House public safety package the House approved on party lines last week, and would change the statute of limitations so that individuals can be prosecuted three years after illegal images are discovered, rather than three years after the offense.

Lawmakers are pushing to change the state’s privacy statute a year after another Minnesota Supreme Court decision on a sexual misconduct case prompted major changes to state law.

The state Supreme Court in 2021 overturned a man’s rape conviction because the victim chose to consume alcohol and had not technically been mentally incapacitated under state law. The ruling sparked widespread public outrage and a strong bipartisan push to reform the state’s laws on sexual assault.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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